BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
When Dean and I moved to North Carolina late in 2017, we bought a house sight unseen. Well, not exactly, 100% unseen, as the real estate listing was up on one of the computers from the moment we went online in the morning until we shut down at night. We looked at that house thousands of times, pining for a big change and keeping hope alive by envisioning ourselves there. Our awesome realtor, Betty Jones, orchestrated a detailed virtual walk -through and we were giddy.
“Measure the wall, please. Yes, that wall. The painting has to fit.”
Dean’s masterpiece, “Peonies” would just barely fit onto the space.
We were sold. We left Connecticut on a leap and a prayer, determined that we would build something good here, understanding that it was on us to do so. Having previously lived in two antique 19th century homes, we were tickled to be getting something “new”: a 20th century, 1968 brick ranch house. I had always wanted to live in a former church, or, short of that, a brick house. This one fit the bill: Dean would paint to his heart’s content on the lower level, while I turned the dining room into a cool office, and the living room into my version of a woman’s “drawing room.” I had earned the right to indulge myself a little and felt no need to explain or apologize.
Outside, there was the perfect area for an herb garden, a place where I could experience the unique healing that comes from digging deeply into mother earth. I was in heaven. But what to do about that area along the fence, the one with the three almost-dead trees, decayed leaves and persistent weeds? We had a clear sight line to it from our back “veranda” and it looked nothing short of neglected and unloved.
Time passed quickly, consumed with so many other things having to do with setting up a new life, making a living, and reaching out for community. It was community that helped me to believe in and to rescue that lonely expanse of nothingness, otherwise known as an eyesore. It all started last spring, when I started to talk about it. “Hey, when you’re cleaning out your garden this year, if you have anything you plan to toss, let me know.”
I told six women. Six women responded. They brought a few hostas to yoga and, after class we moved them from one car to another. They dragged a full wheelbarrow of irises, creeping Jenny, and something else from three houses up. They pulled a black contractor bag filled with chocolate mint and day lilies down my driveway. They walked over with a stone elephant to preside over the reclaimed space and to remind me of my sister. They invited me to bring my gloves and trowel to dig up ivy, daffodils, and Lenten Rose. They texted: “Come by when u can for those large plants with the red blooms. I’ve dug them up for you.”
My garden doesn’t look like much, not yet. It is coming together the way that community does: it evolves. It surprises. It has successes and its share of mishaps and missteps. But it is always well-intentioned and hopeful. It’s a garden legacy worth sharing, just as those plants were: a story that is part of the story of this house. At its heart, it’s about women supporting women the way that we do. It’s about women understanding the power of small contributions to change everything by creating friendships, community, and yes, earthy offerings that help to turn an unseen house into a home.